| Family Tempo |

Forward Thinking

Had she broken her daughters’ spirits? Shprintza was filled with remorse for all the ways she had erred before learning that parenting was a Thing

Mindy hadn’t always been a disembodied editor, hovering invisibly in the atmosphere and admonishing the cosmos about semicolon usage. Once, before the debacle with Bubbe Shprintza, she’d had an actual office with a desk, coffee stains, and a computer with bookmarks for AliPicks and Imamother.

You know the platitudes about not being able to change the past, only the future? Turns out, motivational posters lie a lot. Though you probably knew that already.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, which, as we’ve seen, can lead to disaster. So let’s start in the middle, and explain how a successful, corporeal professional managed to unravel the very fabric of her family’s past.

It all started with the magazine that accidentally slipped through a wormhole connecting 1863 to 2021. (To understand how that works, please see the most recent magazine profile of a world-renowned astrophysicist who also happens to be frum; apparently, there are loads of them, patiently littering the halls of MIT waiting to be discovered.)

Etty Glustein, the new hire, was a sweet young thing in duty-length knit sets and velvet smoking loafers. Just right for the front desk of Sichah Beteilah, the premier women’s magazine. She was not, however, possessed of particularly incisive intellect. Specifically, she didn’t realize that in Shprintza Weiss’s subscription form, 1863 was not the street address but the year.

When the once-fresh copy of Sichah Beteilah arrived on Shprintza Weiss’s doorstep that afternoon in early spring, the color had all faded to sepia, allowing you, dear reader, to suspend disbelief enough to follow the ensuing action.

Much to the good fortune of this writer, as the daughter of the Wise Rav of her shtetl, Shprintza providentially knew how to read, or this story would have been a nonstarter. She was surprised to see the shrink-wrapped package, since mail normally arrived in their village only twice a year, and also because shrink-wrap wasn’t invented until the 1950s. But she had enough life experience to know that tales of life in the heim are generally not bound by constraints of historical accuracy, so she just went with it.

The first pages, the ones with pictures of the mountains outside her window and the ones of impractical baby clothes, didn’t speak to her. Who thought of dressing a baby in tights but no pants in the dead of winter? (Someone who could afford an unlimited supply of firewood, that’s who.)

But the article on page 17 positively alarmed her. “14 Ways You May Have Ruined Your Child’s Future Before Breakfast,” announced the title; just below, in slightly less obnoxious print, it offered conciliatorily, “And What to Do about It on the off Chance It’s Not Too Late.”

“Speaking sharply to a child is damaging to his ethereal, delicate souls,” warned the author, clearly a Noted Expert. “If you’ve done it once, there may be a slight chance you can still be rehabilitated if you take immediate action. Find a 12-step program in your area at the earliest opportunity.”

Had she broken her daughters’ spirits? Shprintza was filled with remorse for all the ways she had erred before learning that parenting was a Thing.

Had her family survived her well-intentioned bumbling, before she knew that urging her recalcitrant toddler to “ess, ess, mein kind,” could trigger an eating disorder? Before she knew that self-sacrifice was misguided, and she had to put on her own oxygen mask first — or at least as soon as they would be invented?

Faiga seemed to have turned out all right. She was plump enough to be a desirable shidduch candidate, for which Shprintza was deeply grateful; she knew not all mothers were blessed with such zaftig daughters.

Shprintza looked across the room to where Faiga was rolling out dough for the lokshen. Was she sufficiently self-actualized? Was she in touch with her inner strengths, and did she have a thought-out plan with regard to her aspirations for the future decades?

A nagging dread clutched at Shprintza’s heart with the tenacity of a sticky-fingered toddler who’s gotten hold of a cell phone. Shprintza finally had a name for her fears, the worries of Yiddishe mammes across the generations: what she now knew to be called the Shidduch Crisis. Her only hope, if the clever optical illusions were to be believed, was to find her daughter a bochur still too young to shave.

Mindy skewered a final stray exclamation mark with a stroke of her red pen and stretched. It was time to call it a night. Next week, her long-awaited article would be running, a profile her cousin had painstakingly researched about their shared great-great-grandmother, and she wanted it to be perfect.

“Todays’ mail,” called Etty, and Mindy cringed as she heard the misplaced apostrophe in her secretary’s words.

She flipped past three irate screeds, a correction, and two glowing accolades until one letter caught her eye. In faint, spindly letters, somebody was thanking her for a life-changing publication.

An odd sensation, somewhat akin to the lightheadedness one feels upon realizing that the entire uninterrupted winter lasted about two weeks and the Purim-Pesach season is once again upon us, passed over Mindy, and she blinked. As she looked around the room to reorient herself, her gaze fell on the article about Bubbe. Before her eyes, the words shimmered and danced, and slid into new formations.

Bubbe Shprintza was ahead of her generation in many ways, she was especially noted for her modern cuisine.

“Comma splice,” thought Mindy. And then, “I never knew that.” Wait— really? Bubbe, whose famous recipes for gribenes and potato kugel the whole family still made—actually, thought Mindy, frowning, our kugel was always different from my friends’. And the gribenes was made with avocado oil. Right, she’d always known her bubbe had led the pack toward healthier cooking.

“We are all human,” said this week’s parenting column. “Just as we seek forgiveness, it behooves us to forgive others their foibles.” Shprintza mulled this over. While she wasn’t sure she understood the reference to cattle, she was thinking hard about Berel.

Oy, Berel, who committed actions that necessitated forgiveness approximately every minute and a half. Most recently, he’d been developing an unhealthy interest in the telegraph. Ach, with these new methods of communication, letter writing was becoming a thing of the past and communication as she knew it was grinding to a halt. Everything faster, faster, shorter, quicker. Shprintza sighed.

She looked at the telegram Berel had just received from his friend Mendel, who’d gone to learn in the big city. “Weather’s fine stop wish you were here stop TTYL 🙂 stop.” What was the younger generation coming to?

Shprintza was carefully shaping what she now knew to be gnocchi with toasted breadcrumbs, not shlishkes, when Berel hurtled through the door with the force of a magnitude 17 hurricane that had made an unholy alliance with a runaway freight train.

Berel’s angelic face, framed by golden peyos, was oddly blackened, and his clothes were tattered. He tracked soot everywhere.

Shprintza barely had time to gratefully reflect on the fact that at least her whole house was a single giant mudroom when the melamed, Reb Shayale, bustled up the path after Berel, huffing rather like a passenger who was a tad too out of shape to catch his runaway train.

“He brought a cow into the cheder, painted purple,” swelled the rebbi indignantly.

Shprintza took in Berel’s sheepish expression.

“I forgive your foibles,” she told him solemnly.

“And he set fire to the curtains!”

Shprintza put her arm around Berel’s thin shoulders. “You must have been feeling very frustrated to have wanted to do that, zeeskeit.”

“And he served the entire class mud pies and told us they were pâté!” finished the rebbi.

“They were good, no?” asked Shprintza eagerly. The rebbi’s mouth opened and closed a few times, much like the carp in the bathtub that would soon become tri-color gefilte, and Shprintza judged that she should not press further for compliments.

As the rebbi made his weary way back down the path, muttering to himself, Shprintza returned her attention to the Shabbos preparations.

“Seasonal florals,” advised the designer. As if such a thing as unseasonal florals existed? She regarded her tablescape critically. She moved the collard greens a little to the left, allowing the locally grown organic parsnip mash, elegantly plated on genuine vintage tin, to take center stage.

The four gooseberries she’d managed to find, clinging tenaciously to their bushes like a skirt washed without fabric softener, added what she could only surmise was the intended “pop of color that takes it all to the next level.” Next level of what? She could tell you that the same way she could tell you whether the spirulina the recipe called for was a vegetable or an animal product (correct answer: neither. Though you probably knew that already.). But it seemed to portend good things.

“There are weeds on your table,” Chaike said helpfully when she came to put her cholent in Shprintza’s oven.

“I know,” said Shprintza happily. “I’m cultivating a natural aesthetic that promotes wellness and mindfulness by bringing the outdoors in.”

Chaike looked skeptical.

“You know from decor like a grumpy bochur knows from validating feelings,” Shprintza told her affectionately.

There was no doubt about it, Shprintza’s eyes were opened, and like those of the one-year-old who had been sleeping peacefully until you accidentally stubbed your toe right outside his door, there was no closing them.

Certain things, Shprintza was gratified to learn, she had done correctly — birthing her children at home (though she was hazy as to what alternative she had thereby rejected), and cooking all her food from scratch with only ingredients whose names she recognized.

But other things were new to her.

She attended to her health with renewed assiduousness, since she now knew that an unusual hiccup could portend early-onset Foreign Accent Syndrome, but that prompt diagnosis and treatment made all the difference.

She learned that boundaries were important, so she dutifully stopped allowing her elderly mother-in-law to stop by for tea and hours of conversation, and said no freely when Raizel, the inveterate do-gooder next door, tried to encourage her to part with a chicken wing for a needy family.

She learned to never, ever say “I know how it feels” unless she actually did, and that she wasn’t relaxing with coffee and decadent gluten-free lotus blondies often enough.

Her kasha knishes became buckwheat, and her chipped porcelain slipped proudly into its aura of retro charm.

The village women were doubtful when she began forcibly recruiting them to join her cooking contest, but they warmed up when they opened the baskets containing their secret ingredients (one team got moldy cheese, and the other, pickled plums. Pickled Plums won with their fabulous reimagining of Deconstructed Tzimmes.)

Shprintza also learned that her simple, uncluttered life was not impoverished, but minimalist, though she suspected she couldn’t quite lay claim to that title without gleaming granite countertops and sleek pendant lighting over her nonexistent kitchen island. Which she was quite confident would be kept perfectly bare if she had one.

In her newfound minimalist pride, she was slightly disappointed to discover that mindfulness was more gratifying when appreciating sunsets than when scrubbing all the bed linens with caustic lye in a frigid river.

But still, her eyes were opened, for better or for worse, and like the moment you realize you are halfway to the airport and left one critical suitcase at home, there was no going back.

Shprintza could tell by the chapter separators that it was to be a fateful night, that night in spring when Moshe arrived home for supper (pan-steamed farro on a bed of wilted endives with a garnish of watermelon radish) unusually ebullient, waving a crumpled envelope.

“My wife!” he cried, obviously and unoriginally, determined to preserve at least some of the old-world flavor of his home. “My cousin Lipa from the city wrote. He has a shidduch for our Faigele!”

“Lipa, bless him, he should live till 120 and die without the zechus of trying my hand-blended blueberry-carrot smoothie with raw clover honey. His shidduchim are nothing but trouble!”

“This one is different. His name is Chatzkel Plutsker, he’s a nice man, a good catch, but only five foot two.”

“Nu? And his family? His hashkafos?”

“Hashkafos? What about hashkafos? He learns in the chevreh Mishanyos every night and says Tehillim. A philosopher our Faiga wants too?”

“No, what I meant to say…” What did she mean to say? wondered Shprintza. Was there more to a happy home than a kind man with a decent livelihood? Who even learned a little Torah every night? She thought about all she had learned about compatibility and priorities, about investigating too much or not enough.

“Well, what if their plans for the future aren’t the same? Faiga is only 16, you know. What if… what if she should wait a little longer, till she knows who she is a little better? A little more self-awareness she could have, yes?” Moshe eyed his wife silently, wondering if perhaps watermelon radish could cause neurological symptoms.

“Only 16? There’s almost no one left in the village her age who isn’t married.”

“Do we know if this Chatzkel will help wash the dishes? Does he know how to use ‘I statements’ instead of accusations?”

Moshe stared at her. Had he only been acquainted with the concept of alien abductions, he would have wondered where the little green men had put his wife before replacing her with this strange facsimile.

Mindy tapped her nose with the tip of her pen, a poor choice considering that she’d accidentally picked the pen up the wrong way.

Dabbing gingerly at her red nose, she frowned — which, if you pay close attention (there, you’re doing it now, I can tell), you will realize is not the opposite of a smile, like the false narrative that emoticons feed us — and tried to remember where she’d seen the spidery writing before.

The emotional letter writer thanked Sichah Beteilah for shining a spotlight of hope and healing on the perilous pitfalls of shidduchim.

Suddenly, that light-headed “I-can’t-believe-I-ran-out-of-potatoes-already-and-it-isn’t-even-Yom-Tov” feeling crept over her again, and the words danced and blurred before her eyes like so many Chabad telethon posters come to life.

What had she been in the middle of? Right, copyediting the Bubbe Shprintza article.

Unlike her neighbors, Bubbe Shprintza did not hurry to accept the first erliche shidduch that was proposed to her daughters. Instead, pioneering the art of exhaustive reference-checking, all eligible suitors had to…

“Misplaced modifier,” thought Mindy. Then, “Wow, you learn new things every day. Bubbe really was ahead of the curve!”

“With all your elegant, understated hosting, you’ve used a chicken almost every single week,” said Moshe. “How are we supposed to afford this?”

Privately, Moshe thought that the best way out of their financial hole would be to stop subscribing to Sichah Beteilah, but he knew that some words were best left unspoken.

“What, I should host guests like a vegan, with our meidelach still home? It will be bad for shidduchim.”

“But the money!”

Shprintza furtively flipped through her latest Sichah Beteilah till she found what she needed. “We need to increase income, not reduce expenses,” she explained. “If we find the appropriate work-life balance, you will be able to attend a daily shiur and even incorporate, uh, rock climbing into your schedule!”

Like a child whose mother has just asked “Who wants to volunteer to do an unspecified mitzvah?” Moshe was suspiciously quiet. Which was fine, since Shprintza needed no encouragement.

“You need to leverage your core competencies in order to justify your value-added upcharges at the kretchma. What is the pain point in your typical client’s journey?” she asked, peeking only once to make sure she’d gotten the terms right.

Moshe blinked twice. “I suppose, uh… they’re thirsty?” he asked, confused.

“Shoin. So can you synergize the product development to maximize your ROI? For example, by offering artisanal craft drinks?” Shprintza closed her eyes and let a picture form. “I’m seeing raw bricks, exposed beams, maybe some peeling plaster for effect…”

Moshe dutifully closed his eyes. “Done,” he declared. “It looks like that already.”

Shprintza beamed. “Baruch Hashem. You should have mazel and brachah like the lady who couldn’t find meaning in her life until she became a baalas teshuvah and now paints expensive abstract Judaica art.”

Moshe dutifully spent the next two weeks leveraging, value-adding, and synergizing, while Shprintza jotted down notes for the TED Talk she was certain was in her future. Finally, the day of the soft opening arrived.

And with it the revelation that, apparently, Shprintza had not presided over enough customer focus groups.

Hans did not find the raspberry floating in his beer to be refreshing. And Ivan did not consider Salt Roasted Beet Carpaccio with tahini and silan to be an appropriate accompaniment to his ale.

As a matter of fact, if the splintering of glass and the cracking of wooden furniture were any indication, I would say that the patrons of Moshke’s Inn, so recently rebranded as Moshe’s Fu/Sion + TrenD, preferred a more classic reimagining of the traditional pub to the trendsetting industry disrupter that their favorite watering hole had become.

As they fled to safety, Moshe failed to see why his wife was lugging several pounds of back issues of Sichah Beteilah with her (much of that weight was in the form of Yom Tov issues, which apparently have a weight-based shiur, much like matzah, only heavier).

“Don’t you see,” she explained earnestly to Moshe, clutching her precious stack. “All these years, I thought the important things to worry about were pogroms. Malnutrition. Finding a man with a parnassah to support my daughter into old age. “

“And now… they’re not?” asked Moshe, thoroughly befuddled.

“Well… yes,” said Shprintza, deflating slightly like failed sourdough starter. “I mean no. I mean, they are important. But not the only things,” she continued, gathering steam like an insta-pot poised to make Pesach. “There’s tablescapes. And self-care. And my facial protocol.”

“But there’s a mob. Of drunken goyim with pointy pitchforks. Outside our window,” said Moshe reasonably. “In these unprecedented times, I suggest we all hurry to the cellar and bar the trapdoor.”

Shprintza peeked out the window, finding herself face-to-face with Igor, whose expression of loathing Shprintza quickly placed somewhere between the antipathy of a balabusta toward the nest of cockroaches she just discovered and that of an out-of-towner toward people from New York. He raised a Costco-sized club threateningly.

“Oy,” she cried, slamming the shutter hastily. “Der groiser sheigetz should be so lost that he can never truly find himself or his inner child! You’re right, Moshe. Out of an abundance of caution — to the cellar!”

Sighing with pleasure as she captured a final dangling participle, Mindy had just decided that “Bubbe Shprintza: A Visionary for the Modern Age,” was finally ready to go, when the disorienting how-am I-supposed-to-pay-for-seminary-when-I’m-still-paying-for-her-braces feeling washed over her.

This time, experienced as she was, she pulled herself together quickly enough to see, to her astonishment, the words change before her eyes.

Unfortunately, due to the financial troubles ensuing from the riot at Zeide Moshe’s inn, Bubbe was never able to provide a dowry to enable her only daughter, Faiga…

Impending doom loomed in front of Mindy like a two-year-old wielding an uncapped Sharpie.

Mindy buzzed the front desk. “I need a Bein Hazmanim Time Warp Radio, and I need it fast.”

Instantly, the equipment was on her desk, and Mindy was rapidly dialing through the years.

“Um, Shprintza? Bubbe Shprintza? Can you hear me?”

“Ich bin nisht keyn bubbe yet, but from your mouth to G-d’s Ears, meideleh. Where are you? I can’t see you,” said Shprintza, looking around for her unseen interlocutor. “And who are you?”

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” admitted Mindy in what may have been the most magnificent understatement since General Custer said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

“The thing is, the magazine you’ve been getting? The Sichah Beteilah? It’s been delivered by mistake. You need to stop following its advice,” urged Mindy, trying to fit all her urgency into a single paragraph while avoiding the use of italics or adverbs.

“Like a spoiled millennial I should ignore good advice?” scoffed Shprintza. “Why would I do that?”

Despite the thesaurus at her elbow, Mindy was at a loss for words. That is to say, she had thousands at her disposal, but at this exact moment she didn’t think snollygoster, jentacular, or gherkin would advance her cause with particular efficacy.

“The advice is bad. Harmful. Ruinous!” exclaimed Mindy, hastily consulting the thesaurus.

“It’s wonderful advice,” said Shprintza coldly. “And this is my machsom l’fi hour.”

Mindy hesitated, uncertain, and the silence stretched between them like gum between your shoe and the ground, refusing to relinquish its hold on either.

“You’re right,” said Mindy, to Shprintza’s surprise. “It is good advice. That’s why we give it. But it’s being taken out of context.”

“Nonsense, bubbele. Good advice is like chicken broth with fluffy dumplings — it’s timeless.”

“Bubbe. My family, my staff, we’re safe, we’re healthy, we can spare some attention to worry about being self-fulfilled and finding outlets. You… you need to take care of yourself, of your family— of your future,” said Mindy desperately.

“What, like a kollel couple who isn’t getting any support you want I should live?” asked Shprintza indignantly.

“Bubbe.” Mindy felt an emptiness inside, a mistiness, and she knew she had very little time left. “We are safe and healthy, we have time for our first world luxuries and vanities and endless self-analysis. But you’re fine the way you are.”

Mindy cast about for language that would speak to her bubbe… her new and improved bubbe. Bubbe 2.0. “Just… keep being true to yourself! Listen to your inner voice…” Her voice trailed off. As Shprintza opened her mouth to reply, Mindy was already fading away….

…Bubbe was never able to provide a dowry to enable her daughter Faiga to marry her betrothed. Neither Shprintza nor her daughter were the ones….

There was the softest little pop, like a cork leaving a bottle, and Mindy felt her very last substance vanish as, from some distant place near the ceiling, she watched her great-grandmother’s family write itself out of history. There was a gentle sighing, then a whooshing. A faint voice cried “subject/verb agreement!”

And then there was nothing.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 732)

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